Busta Rhymes, Roots, Eric Benét Play Surprise Show

Their performance for 600 contest winners inaugurated Miller Genuine Draft After Set series.

CHICAGO — Rapper Busta Rhymes, hip-hop combo the Roots and

R&B crooner Eric Benét were the surprise performers at the

inaugural Miller Genuine Draft After Set show Friday at the House of

Blues.

When the curtain lifted for the headliner shortly after 1 a.m., a gangly

figure appeared behind the turntables: DJ Scratch of the Flipmode Squad.

Then all the whispered guesses turned to cheers as Scratch introduced

his MC: Busta Rhymes, the Brooklyn, N.Y.-born clown prince of hip-hop

whose first two solo albums, The Coming (1996) and When Disaster

Strikes (1997), both went platinum.

Rhymes (born Trevor Smith) didn't disappoint his legions of fans, kicking

immediately into party mode with his first solo hit, the shout-along

anthem "Woo Hah!! Got You All in Check" (RealAudio

excerpt).

Much of the rest of Rhymes' set was drawn from his most recent album,

Extinction Level Event (The Final World Front) (1998).

After a preshow dance party hosted by popular New York radio DJ Funkmaster

Flex, rising R&B star Eric Benét took the stage, backed by a

six-piece band.

Benét, a Milwaukee native, performed barefoot in a long maroon

velvet robe. While his bedroom attire matched the thematic content of

the songs, their characters rarely wore even that much.

Benét's set leaned heavily on slick, midtempo material from his

second album, A Day in the Life (1999). The two standouts were

"Why You Follow Me," thanks to its snappy, Latin beat, and "Georgy Porgy,"

an unlikely cover of the 1979 Toto hit.

"Covers are an opportunity for me to pay homage to classic rock like

Toto and Kansas," Benét said backstage after his set. "My music

is influenced by everything from Steely Dan to Mozart to Queen to the

Beatles. It's built on a foundation of R&B, with other genres added."

Employing a similarly wide-open approach to their music were Philadelphia

hip-hop ensemble the Roots. But where Benét draws on the most

melodramatic elements of past decades and genres, the Roots' innovation

is inspired by the most challenging aspects of rap, funk and jazz.

Drummer ?uestlove (born Ahmir Thompson), bassist Leonard Hubbard and

keyboardist Kamal, who goes only by one name, are as likely to embark on

free-jazz flights of fancy as they are to crank out smooth grooves.

Friday's crowd clearly wanted more of the latter than the Roots provided.

Although MC Black Thought (born Tariq Trotter) led his troupe in a

performance of great range and intensity, the dance floor was nearly

empty. Only Rahzel's jaw-dropping beatbox skills seemed to stir the crowd.

Nonetheless, the Roots persevered, offering an engagingly chaotic version

of "The Next Movement" and its counterpoint, the deliciously slow and

soulful "You Got Me" (RealAudio

excerpt), both from their 1999 album, Things Fall Apart.

Billed as "the African-American evolution of Blind Date," the After Set

series is an offshoot of the Blind Date mystery concerts that have

featured such acts as David Bowie, Hole and Garbage.

As with the Blind Date series, tickets for After Set were distributed

only through contests in national magazines and by radio stations in 10

cities. Approximately 600 tickets were distributed, and none of the acts

was announced in advance.